Family stay: Stoke Park Hotel & Country Club
It’s been a while since I’ve written a feature for a glossy – I’m full-time Muddying these days – so it was a throw-back thrill to write a more magaziney piece for Stoke Park magazine.
Here’s the feature if you fancy reading it – a family stay at the hotel. Not something you’re going to be doing every weekend, it’s a five star gaff and is costed accordingly – but it’s a brilliant option for a special occasion.
Fun With My Family
I’m in my luxury New York-style bedroom at Stoke Park – all fluffy carpets, pop art touches and mirrored furniture – gaping at a 20th century art masterpiece on the wall. Yes unbelievers, a real one.
But do my children in the adjoining bedroom give a chuff as I plead for them to see this incredible work of art? No they flippin don’t. Because they’ve discovered something much more interesting. Namely, three fluffy insignia Stoke Park mini dressing gowns (which they are already wearing over their clothes), a TV that’s twice the size of the one we have at home and their own Stoke Park craft packs that they’re attacking as if their place at the Royal College of Art depended on it.
It’s at that moment, as I pad quietly back into my own room in The Pavilion (the modern rooms near to the spa and tennis courts) that I have that ‘yesssssss!’ feeling. It’s going to be a good break.
I think rather like buying houses, or eating out, you can pretty much tell straight from the off if you’re going to like a hotel. It’s about the vibe, the friendliness of the staff, the efficiency, the facilities. And frankly, a bit of luxury doesn’t go adrift either.
Over the years I’ve checked out plenty of supposedly ‘child-friendly’ hotels where somehow you still feel compelled to talk in hushed tones, can’t find a slouchy sofa for love nor money and feel horrifically judged when your well-meaning but feral kids blow their nose on their napkins. I’ve been to Stokey several times, once with my husband, once with my mum and again with my kids and every time it’s the same – luxurious but incredibly relaxed.
Anyway, once we’d settled into our rooms and I’d had my first cup of tea (hurrah for the kettle – I can’t stand hotels that don’t let you make your own brew), we went over to the grand main mansion house for a special kids afternoon tea. Whoa there, if you have kids, you really need to take them to this! More sandwiches, pastries and pretty cakes than even Marie Antoinette could scoff but, at fear of bragging, my children are made of sterner stuff and woofed the lot.
I had the adult afternoon version, choosing one of dozens of specialist teas before reverting to type and heading for the champagne instead (because, sod it, it’s my holiday too!). Hot chocolates appeared for the kids and I knocked back another glass of bubbly before we finally rolled out of the mansion house for a wander around the grounds.
There’s a lovely kids playground around the back of the property, so the children clambered around that for a while, after which we peered into the crèche. I hadn’t booked that for my kids as we were only staying the night, but if you have kids 0-5 years they can use it at all times, and 5-8 year olds can book in on weekends and holidays, so it’s a low-guilt way to carve out a bit more time for yourselves.
Then it was into the pool for an hour, for one of the three daily kids swim times, which my children loved. Used to my spartan towel regime at home, they went a bit overboard on the free towels on offer in the spa (apologies to the environment – it was for one night only!) and stayed in the pool until their hands went wrinkly.
I’m already a massive fan of Stoke Park gym and spa –it’s made the finals of my Muddy Stilettos Awards for the last two years running – and it’s a fantasy land of luxury and relaxation. Like being wrapped in cashmere by David Gandy. Or Jamie Dornan. Or, yeah, why not, it’s my fantasy, let’s have both.
Later that evening, after I’d had the longest bath ever – someone pass me the Guinness Book of Records, I’m serious – we meandered downstairs to the Italian restaurant San Marco for pizza. It’s modern, very child-friendly, offering the usual pizzas and pastas. The maitre d’ is obviously used to dealing with children – he brought pillows to lift little bottoms higher on seats, cracked some jokes with my youngest child, put my awkward teenager at ease. We were defeated by the size of the portions this time around but we were offered a doggie bag (and yes, we ate it the next evening).
The next morning, the kids chose to stay in the San Marco restaurant for breakfast. We could have gone across to the more opulent surroundings in the mansion house but the Muddy bratlets are so lazzzzzzy and it was seconds to go from room to San Marco. My children are no different to any other small people – they live for the serve-yourself buffet breakfast. Followed by a side order of waffles. And pancakes. And hot chocolate.
After which I pulled them down from the ceiling and said ‘laters!’ coz I had a massage booked. I left them in the games room to wait for their sports coaches – the my 7and 8 year old had a private tennis session and my 13 year old went for a one-to-one golf lesson.
My massage was as heavenly as it could get without the dynamic duo of Gandy and Dornan into the mix (just saying). The little ones loved their tennis coaching with Adam, who they’d had before for holiday coaching. And my teenager, who on his only previous attempt at golf gained the nickname of Gravedigger for his angry hacking of turf, proclaimed when we met up afterwards in some kind of awe that now ‘actually quite likes golf’.
We would have noshed in the elegant surroundings of Humphry’s as, rather brilliantly, kids are able to dine here at lunch during school holidays. It would have been a chance for the kids to sample chef Chris Wheeler’s incredible food (that Michelin star is long overdue in my opinion), but we were running late to meet Mr Muddy at the nearby Burnham Beeches wood.
So that was it, we had to bail. But on the basis of that heavenly family break, we’ll be back. Those fluffy little white bathrobes won’t wear themselves.